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|September 24, 1999||
The Rediff Election Interview/ Maneka Gandhi
'I am still in the family'
Union Minister for Social Justice and Empowerment Maneka Gandhi isn't just another contestant in the electoral fray. She's probably the only high-profile politician to soldier on as an independent despite having been a minister in different governments at the Centre and the plum positions she could obtain in any party.
Even more important, she does not use the Gandhi family name -- to which the 42-year-old
Even more important, she does not use the Gandhi family name -- to which the 42-year-oldbahu (daughter-in-law) of the Nehru-Gandhi family has a natural right -- to advance her political interests. She aims to win the Pilibhit parliamentary seat, as she has done three times in the past, on the strength of her achievements alone.
Why don't you use the Gandhi-Nehru family name?
Suppose I go out and start announcing, 'I am a woman; I am a woman.' Do I need to do that? No! Because I am a woman. Likewise, I'm a Gandhi. It is a matter of fact. It is only those people who aren't sure about themselves who have to keep proclaiming it.
What about your sister-in-law Sonia Gandhi's claim that she isn't a foreigner?
Suppose someone like me goes about claiming I'm a Tamilian. That would be ridiculous because, after all, I am a Punjabi. Even if I were to disown my Punjabi lineage I cannot succeed because my genetic structure is that of a Punjabi.
Sonia is being projected as the prime minister ....
Every party has the right to project its leader as prime minister; after all, that's what politics is all about.
The Congress party alleges that you have done little for your constituency, Pilibhit.
Let the Congress say whatever it wants to. It is also contesting elections and it will put forward its own point of view. But the people of the area know that the Congress is not speaking the truth. I have worked for the all-round development of this area. More than Rs one billion has been spent on various schemes in Pilibhit. Over 650 kilometres of road have been laid and most villages have been linked to each other.
Over 125 villages have been electrified in this region. Three power sub-stations, of 36 kilowatts each, have been installed. Twelve transformers worth Rs four million have been installed to ensure better distribution of electricity.
Medical facilities in the district hospital have been upgraded. Rs 400,000 has been sanctioned for the hospital. Rs 100,000 has been given to the blood bank. These are some things I've done for the people of Pilibhit.
You appear a little uncertain about your chances this time.
You can never be sure whether or not people will vote for you. It is only after the results are announced that you know whether or not the electorate has given you a mandate.
My easy accessibility is my greatest forte. You should see how I begin my day -- at 7.45 -- by throwing open my doors to anyone and everyone who seeks my help.
But isn't that something which all politicians do?
I make it a point to take up the problems of those who have lost all hope in the system and have no other recourse. Also, I do not allow my representatives to function as middlemen. I choose only those people to work for me who have no axe to grind.
Seems like you got your son Varun to assist you in campaigning only after Priyanka started doing so for her mother?
Varun had been coming with me once in a while even earlier. But this time he had his holidays at the London School of Economics. So I thought he could join me here and be of good use to his mother. I think it is common for most contestants to take such help from family members.
Do you have plans to induct Varun into active politics?
Let him first complete his degree. Nobody in 90 years has got a degree in the Nehru family; the last was Jawaharlal Nehru who got it in 1910. There is not one after that till 1999, including myself.
What about your own political ambitions?
Well, I have been a Union minister three times. That's good enough. I have written 17 books, I run 108 animal centres and look after the interests of poor patients in at least 40 hospitals. I've worked very hard in the vegetarian movement. I am a good member of Parliament and I'm also a good mother... I do everything to the best of my ability.
But surely you must be having some ultimate ambition?
Well ... as of now it's to get through each day, to do something useful each day..."
And finally, do you regret parting ways with the country's so-called first family?
Why, I am still in the family.... (smiles).
ALSO SEE: Dog day afternoon in Pilibhit
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